Small Business Development Center
At Chemeketa Center for Business & Industry
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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Project Management Can Help Run Business

By Chemeketa SBDC

Do you sometimes wonder if you are running your business or your business is running you? One of the greatest services our advisors offer at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is helping an owner step back and see the pieces of the puzzle that make up the entire organization. To tackle any given part of your organizational needs may best be viewed as a project. Managing a project (or many projects) may give you the perspective you need to solve one issue at a time. (It’s not unlike the joke, “How do you eat an elephant?”)

Project management is simply a process. Break it into several steps. Identify the problem (issue, opportunity, etc.) Design the solution. Implement your plan. And finally, evaluate the results. For now — concentrate on steps 1 and 2 — Identification and Design.

The first step is to analyze the situation. What is the problem, issue or opportunity? Define it as clearly as you can – the more clarity here, the easier the design, implementation and evaluation will be. For example, if you are seeing a decreasing cash balance, you may identify the project as “increasing the number of customers.” If that is the solution then your efforts (project plan) will be focused on getting more people into the business OR it could be about increasing sales to existing customers. But (and a big but), if loss of cash is really about having a miscalculation in your pricing strategy, bringing in more customers will simply break you faster than the current rate. This is the most critical part of project planning. Identify the real issue – not just the symptoms.

Then you can begin to design the solution. This includes the scope of the project, the budget required, the return on investment expected, the activities, the timeline and specifically, who will be responsible for each outcome. This cannot be done in your head. This must be documented, consulted and updated on a regular basis. This is a step that you cannot skip. If you don’t know where you are going – you are not going to know when you get there.

In our example, if your project is to “increase the number of customers,” you need to know by how many? Compared to what? In what given time period? How much will it cost? What does that translate into as a cost per customer? (If it costs you $100 to recruit each new customer and their average sale is $10 – this plan makes no sense.) How will you attract the customers? What tools will you use and when?

This is the beginning of project management. Before you begin, you need a plan. If you jump into the water without knowing how far it is across – you may or not make it, you may or may not expend a lot of energy (and resources) without an achievable goal.

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


Notary Training

By Chemeketa SBDC

For all first-time Oregon Notary applicants, and prior Oregon Notaries renewing after commission expiration – a mandatory 3-hour training course is required along with the application, exam and filing fee.

For all Oregon Notaries renewing with a current commission – submit the application, exam and the filing fee. For more information visit http://filinginoregon.com/pages/notary/training/index.html


What Small Biz Can Learn From the Tech Industry

By Chemeketa SBDC

“The Lean Startup” has become a book that every tech entrepreneur has read and quotes regularly. Eric Reis, the author of the book, coined the term “lean startup” to reframe what it means to be a startup and the process that a startup should follow to ensure success… or at least to take a good stab at it. The main premise of the book is that a startup is simply a
series of experiments. Experiments that have a hypothesis (an idea to test), limited variables to test (test certain aspects of your idea, not the whole idea at once), and success measurements (how you know when you succeeded or failed).

By executing and completing these experiments, you are continually refining and defining your product and target market. Through the experiments, you might find out that no one will buy your product, or that a completely overlooked demographic is actually your target market. In the long run, testing small aspects of your idea will save you time and money because you will be forced to focus on the product that will sell and not on superfluous
aspects of your business that do not contribute to your bottom line.

While “The Lean Startup” is written specifically for tech startups, the principles can be and must be applied to small start-up business and social ventures. Here are some examples on how applying the lean start-up principles might look in a small business.

Business idea: Car mechanic Hypothesis: People want a car mechanic in a convenient
location.

Experiment: Find a neighborhood that has to travel 5 miles to get to a car mechanic. Go door to door and offer to provide basic services at their residence.

Measurements: Get 30 percent of car-owning neighborhood residents to pay for services.

Why it works? You will be able to determine if a convenient location is a problem. You will start to build a customer base before making the capital investments into a building.

Business idea: Organization services

Hypothesis: People want to get organized because it makes them calm.

Experiment: In the same time frame, send out two sets of marketing materials. One that uses words and colors that reflect calm, peace, tranquility, etc., and the other that uses words and colors that represent efficiency, time-saving, productivity, etc.

Measurements: Record which marketing materials created the most interest.

Why it works? You will be able to see what motivates people to get organized and develop a customer-centric marketing strategy.

Using the lean startup principles can be intimidating and might be counter intuitive to traditional startup thinking. The fact is you can plan as much as you want but in reality business plans reflect the world that’s in your mind, and not the world that actually exists. To start a successful business from the beginning, you need to be in the trenches with your
potential customers.

Now time for my experiment: Are you interested in learning more about lean startup rinciples and how you can incorporate them into your startup or existing business or nonprofit? If you are, contact me at kmozian@chemeketa.edu or 503-399-5088 and let’s chat.

Kristen Mozian is a business advisor working with the MERIT Microenterprise Program at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center, www.sbdc.chemeketa.edu.


Three Social Media Don’t Do’s

By Chemeketa SBDC

As a business owner it’s tempting to think that social media will solve all your marketing problems. It’s free, right? And reaches a vast audience, right? Well, maybe. There are better and worse ways to use social media. Here are a few common errors to avoid.

• Blatant self-promotion. Who appreciates a self-involved bore? No one and especially not customers. Think about social media as a conversation that is only partially about you, and mostly about the folks you’re talking with. Like any good conversation, it’s a free flow of ideas where no one person dominates the action.

This means that it’s important for people to leave comments, “like” what you put out, and generally interact with you. Get back to them with comments and posts that show you’re paying attention to what they say. Encourage participation that focuses on them and not you.

• The hard sell. This is just as unappealing on social media as it is in person. No one wants to hear the “buy me!” message being trumpeted at high volume. Social media is about building relationships, not using people to get to their wallets.

Experts say that 10 percent or less of your content should be a marketing pitch. This is one out of ten messages (or less). That means the other nine messages should be about providing information, answering questions, affirming what others say, and serving as a trusted resource. Social media shouldn’t be your entire marketing focus anyway, and that means that you can ask for a sale in other channels.

• Believing that just because it doesn’t cost you anything means it’s free. Wrong! There’s a big cost to your time (and your staff’s time) in keeping up with the social media channels you’ve chosen. To do this well you need to be paying attention several times a day. Think about the number of hours you can devote to this and assign a cost. Consider how social
media marketing fits into your workday and the workloads of you and your staff.
If you’re doing this, what else are you not doing, and what’s the opportunity
cost to that?

In order to do this well you should choose only one or two social media avenues and focus your energies there, and not scatter-shot by trying to be everywhere. Better to do a couple of things well than many things poorly.

Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu. Visit
the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.


For Business Owners, Multitasking May Not be What it’s Cracked Up to Be

By Chemeketa SBDC

In the fast-paced, high-tech lives of many business owners multitasking has become an art form, something to be proud of and maybe even brag about. But be careful, it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Business owners do have a lot on their hands: juggling bookkeeping, social media, website updates, customer service, fulfilling orders, stocking inventory, opening and closing the store, tending to employees, etc.  And while accomplishing a number of things in the same moment may feel satisfying and buy time in the short run, in the long run it may backfire.

Have you ever tried to carry too many grocery bags from the car into the house so you didn’t have to make more than one trip — only to drop half the bags and make a mess before you were able to get them on the kitchen counter? The same thing goes for trying to do too much in business.

Writing that e-newsletter while talking to a customer on the phone may look like this: part of your conversation with your customer ends up in your newsletter and because you didn’t have time (or didn’t take the time) to have someone proofread it, you sent it out as is.

Trying to update your QuickBooks while posting things to your business’ Facebook page may look like this: You end up posting your profit for the last month and that client whose account is past due on Facebook.

Ultimately, you may end up disappointing a customer, embarrassing yourself, and getting less done than you would have if you’d just slowed down and done one thing at a time. In fact, a Harvard Business Review blog post, “How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking,” says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40 percent drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10 percent drop in IQ.

So, as a business owner, what can you do to reduce multitasking and still get everything done?

Slow Down: Believe it or not, you are more efficient and effective when you aren’t rushing from one thing to the next.

Prioritize: Instead of trying to get everything done at once, determine what is most important. What needs to happen first and what can wait?

Turn off your cell phone: Ok, not forever, just for the hour or so you need to focus on an important project. Consider it an experiment; see how much more quickly you get that project done without all the interruptions.

Schedule down time: Everyday, schedule even five minutes of time where you can close your eyes, breathe, and let all the work you have to get done wait on you, wait on what’s most important, retaining your sanity and reducing stress.

Ask for help: Business owners are known to try to do too much, to try and do it all themselves. If you aren’t in a position to hire employees, consider temporary help, a virtual assistant, or even asking your teenager to stuff envelopes for you. You may be self-employed but that doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone.

Joanne Scharer is a business adviser at the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and owner of All Writing Matters. She can be reached at sbdc@chemeketa.edu